Can the U.S. Fight Climate Change without China?

President Obama’s new climate change plan unveiled this Tuesday calls for global action to reduce emissions and address global warming. Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic looks at why the US needs China’s cooperation to tackle climate change:

The painful truth is that without cooperation from the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter, any effort the United States makes to slow global warming likely won’t amount to much. China, where rapid economic growth has been powered with copious amounts of coal, accounted for more than a quarter worldwide emissions in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The United States was responsible for just under 17 percent.

And, while U.S. emissions have fallen since 2005, China’s are still increasing right along with the output of its factories. The Rhodium Group estimates they were up by roughly 3.4 percent last year.

This is why a sizable chunk of Obama’s climate plan is dedicated to International engagement. Convincing China, as well as fast-growing developing economies like India, to limit their emissions is as crucial to combating global warming at this point as convincing the developed world to wean itself off of oil and coal. The next big chance to do so will likely be the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris. [Source]

Although bilateral efforts to address climate change already began in April with the signing of the Joint US-China Statement on Climate Change during Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to China, Greenpeace activist Li Shuo urges China to take a more proactive stance. From China Dialogue:

China should also be more proactive and not let the bilateral cooperation become a one-man show. Indeed, given the daunting environmental challenges, the country should have more incentives to conduct a large scale surgery on its energy sector.

As a recent briefing from the World Resources Institute put it, there are already plenty of reasons for China to act itself: the prioritisation of environmental policies, to maintain economic competitiveness, ensure energy security, and prevent the adverse impact of climate change – to name just a few internal drivers.

On top of that, when it comes to moving away from fossil fuels, there is considerable domestic demand for this. The recent air pollution episodes ring a loud and clear alarm bell. As citizens in Chinese most populous and advanced cities literally choke to death from coal plant emissions, even if the climate can take more greenhouse gas emissions (which it can’t, as we’ve passed 400 ppm), the people are not going to. Our current energy path needs to be dramatically shifted. A more ambitious coal reduction plan has to be immediately introduced and implemented. Our country should do it rather than wait for others to do so. [Source]